Scotland’s home autumn Test matches against Argentina, Japan and New Zealand would be cancelled and replaced by a northern hemisphere tournament under new World Rugby proposals to reconfigure the remaining 2020 calendar.
The global governing body’s executive committee has recommended that a temporary international rugby window be put in place between October 24 and December 5, with long-distance travel between hemispheres dissuaded due to the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Scotland were due to host the Pumas, Brave Blossoms and All Blacks on November 7, 14 and 21 respectively, but any hope of those matches taking place would be extinguished by the new schedule. Instead, Scotland are expected to play their outstanding Six Nations fixture against Wales on October 31, before a likely northern hemisphere tournament between November 14 and December 5 consisting of Six Nations teams and two invitees from Georgia, Japan or Fiji.
The Scotsman understands that BT Murrayfield would be one of the venues used for the proposed event, with hope that some spectators would be permitted to attend. The 67,000 Edinburgh stadium was already one the best-prepared to be a bio-secure environment and work has gone over the past months to make it as safe as possible, adhering to government and health advice.
The Six Nations match against Wales, however, will not be played in Cardiff after the Welsh Rugby Union revealed that the Principality Stadium is to remain as a field hospital in case of a renewed coronavirus outbreak. Twickenham, the London Stadium, Wembley and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium are four of the venues being considered for the tie.
The cancellation of the three Tests would be a savage blow to the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), with the authority – like many of its counterparts – feeling the harsh financial realities of the coronavirus crisis, although there would be some recompense with the new tournament.
The traditional autumn matches would normally generate near sell-out crowds at BT Murrayfield under normal circumstances and bring huge revenues to the SRU. Mark Dodson, its chief executive, has already warned of the cash perils the union faces due to an absence of supporters at matches, corporate and sponsorship revenues, while he and other board directors – along with Scotland coach Gregor Townsend – have taken wage deferrals to help ease the situation.
Dodson has estimated that the loss of the November Tests would cost the union up to £12 million.
World Rugby still hopes to hold the Rugby Championship involving New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand at the start of November, further casting those nations' usual trips to Europe in doubt. The tournament would most likely be held in one country, with teams contained in bio-secure environments. New Zealand has already thrown its hat into the ring to host the event, with Covid-19 numbers extremely low in the country.
The proposals need to be rubber-stamped at a virtual meeting of the World Rugby Council on Thursday, July 30, with national unions set to continue discussions in the meantime to pave a smooth passage for international rugby to resume this year.
A statement posted on the SRU's website read: “The World Rugby Executive Committee has today recommended a revised temporary 2020 international calendar with the express objective of optimising recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels.
"Seeking to reconcile the interests of the international game, the professional club game and player welfare, temporary windows have been determined following extensive and productive consultation between World Rugby, international competitions, national unions, their professional club competitions and International Rugby Players.
"Recognising the importance of a balanced and shared compromise among all stakeholders, a temporary international window between 24 October and 5 December has been recommended. In the north, this window will accommodate the postponed men's and women's Six Nations matches at the end of October, a rest weekend on 7 November and a programme of international matches involving the Six Nations and invited teams hosted in Europe from 14 November through to 5 December.
“With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to impact international travel and borders across southern hemisphere unions, on an exceptional basis The Rugby Championship 2020 will be hosted in full in a single country over a reduced six-week period between 7 November and 12 December. Special measures will be implemented to deal with any government-required quarantine period prior to the start of the competition.
"The rescheduling of the domestic, European and international calendars will accommodate the ability for the professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019/20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September.
"The recommendation to temporarily change the Regulation 9 windows will be tabled at a virtual meeting of the World Rugby Council on 30 July. Subject to approval, the full schedule of matches will be announced by the respective union and international competition owners in due course. The current Regulation 9 windows will return to normal after 13 December.
"All parties remain committed to continued dialogue regarding long-term men’s and women’s calendar reform that harmonises the international and club environments for the betterment of all.”
Welsh rugby chief executive Martyn Phillips confirmed that his union is in negotiations with government officials and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board to keep the temporary hospital in place at the Principality Stadium until autumn, and then have the stadium back as a rugby venue for the 2021 Six Nations.
"Whilst we expect to replay our postponed Guinness Six Nations 2020 fixture with Scotland, the competition format and opposition for additional autumn games are yet to be agreed," said Phillips.
"What is certain is that we will not be playing any home games at Principality Stadium.
"Our decision to step in to provide a location for a surge hospital at the height of the pandemic, along with the scale of the investment to construct the Dragon's Heart hospital in the Stadium, has meant that we have agreed in principle to extend the hospital until the autumn.
"We have yet to finalise a contract on the extension, as, this time, it is a little more complex and there are a number of circumstances that need to be covered. We hope to sign the contract shortly."
"On a more optimistic footing, we plan to be back playing at the Principality Stadium - hopefully in front of full crowds - against England and Ireland in the Six Nations in February 2021."